Parents and students at Mount Pleasant Primary School in Shrewsbury, where a school dinner costs £2.20 ($4) per day, have been warned that arrears exceeding £6.60 ($12) will mean the school “will only be able to offer bread, fruit and water to pupils.”
The newsletter to parents also informed them that the other consequence of non-payment is that those students will be seated separately from their peers during meal times.
Jamie-Lee Heath, a 30-year-old kitchen designer whose daughter, Madison, attends the school, told The Mirror that the notice demonstrated “no compassion whatsoever to the children [teachers] see every day.”
The first time Heath understood the impact of the rule was recently when she received a text from the school just an hour before lunchtime, saying money was owed and no food had been ordered for Madison.
Heath explained that Madison had left her lunch in her father’s car the day before, and was given a hot meal, leaving her £2.20 in arrears on her school account. Fortunately, Heath was able to transfer money immediately after she received the text.
"I called up immediately and explained I would pay online straight away as I didn't realise she had arrears or no dinner money but also asked about what she would have been given if I hadn't managed to read the text in time. This is when the bread, fruit and water policy was explained to me. It had been mentioned in a previous school newsletter but I must admit I hadn't read it properly."
Heath then wrote about the incident on her personal Facebook page to warn other parents so they could be better prepared.
"To withhold a hot dinner from her over the matter of £2.20 seemed shocking to me...the fact the child would be taken away from their friends and given a different 'lunch' in a separate room seemed like a punishment to a child and could easily create upset or bullying opportunities."
Heath said that the school put parents, and especially students, in a precarious position.
"I would have been at work when the text was sent. If I had missed that text due to being in a meeting or with a customer I have no doubt that they would have followed through with the bread and water."
She also said that the dire lack of compassion and flexibility demonstrated by the school was shocking.
"I also find it appalling that if indeed a parent was struggling to pay lunches for whatever reason, it is the child who would suffer. Surely the first port of call is offering support and help to the parent and a point in the right direction. Not segregation of the innocent child.
We want our children to be alert and happy at school, as we all know children learn better this way. To do this they need a full stomach."
According to The Mirror, the school highlighted the policy in their newsletter in June last year. Headteacher, Mr Morris, promised the school would always ensure that a child would be provided with an 'alternative meal' in the case of forgotten dinner money.
According to Heath, Morris wrote to her and complained that her comments were 'unwelcome' and 'unfair'.
He said in his letter, "The school will always ensure that the child is well fed but must have an alternative if arrears are owing and the child is not sent in with a packed lunch or if the arrears have not been paid.
"The school will always ensure that the child is provided with an alternative meal. Pupils would receive bread and butter as well as a selection of chilled fruit or veg from the salad bar.
The meal is not consumed alongside other children in the hall, so attention is not drawn to the child."